across the streaming-verse

How to Stream the Best Movies of 2014 on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes

Photo: Studio Canal, Radius/TWC, Marvel, Music Box Films

As the end of the year rapidly approaches, you are likely reading many top-ten movie lists (or top-11, like David Edelstein’s) that feature many movies that are just being released in theaters (Birdman, The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher) or that won’t even make it into wide release until January 2014 (Selma, A Most Violent Year, American Sniper). But we’re here to remind you that there were 11 other months in 2014, and many of the year’s best films came out in that period and are now available for streaming or rental on a streaming service. If you’re not planning on hitting a multiplex this holiday weekend, here’s a rundown of what you can watch from the comfort of your own sofa.

Big-Budget Winners

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: The first film wowed us with lifelike CG. This sequel took motion capture to the next level, allowing Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell’s digital apes to become lead characters. The technology was all in service of ridiculous fun, and the rebooted series had its pulp moment as gun-wielding primates stormed into battle on horseback. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel’s ragtag team of space cadets added a much-needed dose of character, comedy, and classic tunes to the year’s superhero offerings. Yes, it’s basically Star Wars meets Avengers, but when you’re looking for fluff, why would that be a problem? Dancing Baby Groot is only the cherry on top. (Available to rent on Amazon, YouTube)

Edge of Tomorrow: A movie that cranks through its explosion-laden alien-fighting with clockwork precision. Doug Liman’s Groundhog Day–esque action movie features Tom Cruise in his best role in years. Edge first comically cuts the guy off at the knees — sometimes literally — then rebuilds him as a bona fide war hero. Exhilarating and a little heady. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

X-Men: Days of Future Past: Successfully reviving a plateauing franchise, the X-Men sequel delivered good ol’ fashioned, mutant-powered bombast. Merging casts young and old turned out to be a tremendously successful conceit. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Snowpiercer: Bong Joon-ho stuffs his perpetual, class-segmented locomotive with the geekiest sci-fi concepts to hit the screen in years. If Soylent Green, The Raid, and 1984 had a baby, it might look like Snowpiercer, which starts weird (Chris Evans rebelling against bespectacled militant Tilda Swinton) and gets weirder (Alison Pill, kindergarten teacher, whipping out machine guns). Urgency keeps it all glued together. (Available to stream on Netflix, rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Neighbors: If you don’t plan on checking out The Interview now that it’s available in limited theaters, try Seth Rogen’s other major venture, a simple comedy pitting a married couple against the fraternity to end all fraternities. Rogen turned a low-key comedy about parenting, aging, and responsibility into a $100 million win. It helps that Rose Byrne goes just as far for laughs as Rogen or Zac Efron. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Marvel injected its First Avenger sequel with a ‘70s political-thriller vibe, sending familiar characters spiraling out of control. Gun-heavy and tactile, Captain America 2 upped the paranoia but kept Chris Evans’s Boy Scout charm. (Available to rent on iTunes, YouTube)

Indie & Foreign Gems

Boyhood: Heralded for its 12-year production schedule, Richard Linklater’s three-hour look at growing up is miraculously discreet and pragmatic. “As we scan Coltrane’s face and body for changes, we come to think of each moment as fleeting, irrecoverable, and so, infinitely precious,” our own David Edelstein wrote, naming the movie his favorite of the year. (Available to rent on iTunes)

Under the Skin: With few words, Scarlett Johansson becomes one of film’s great extraterrestrials. Her nameless character wanders the streets of Glasgow, lurking on men and luring them to their doom. Director Jonathan Glazer gives the audience few clues along the way, leaving “narrative” behind in favor of striking images and Mica Levi’s tingling score. Disorienting in the best way possible. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime, rent on Amazon, YouTube)

Ida: Pawel Pawlikowski’s subdued drama, set in 1960s Poland, might be the sweetest, funniest, most harrowing post-Holocaust movie ever made. A road-trip movie of sorts, Ida follows an orphan preparing for convent life and her aunt, holding the secret to a Jewish heritage she never knew, recovering together for the first time. Don’t adjust your TV settings — this one is purposefully presented in boxy and black-and-white. (Available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Prime, rent on Amazon, YouTube)

The Trip to Italy: A sequel to 2010’s foodie comedy The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon return for more dining, more impressions, and more introspection. Anything (and everything) can happen over a plate of pasta and a glass of red wine. (Available to stream on Netflix)

The Babadook: A traumatic familial drama doubling as the creepiest monster movie in ages (“babadook-dook-dooooooook!” goes the shadowy title character). Director Jennifer Kent tortures her leading lady Essie Davis with the stress of single parentdom, conjuring real scares and revelations. A physical experience. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Locke: The setup sounds gimmicky: Tom Hardy talks on the phone for 80 minutes! The results are as powerful and electric as one-man-show theater. Over a single car ride, the entire world floods into the title character’s BMW, and it’s up to Hardy’s soothing Scottish vocals to stay afloat. (Available to stream on Amazon Prime, rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Starred Up: Unbroken’s Jack O’Connell stars as a troubled young offender making the jump to big-boy prison, where his violent aggression could be the end of him. Like Britain’s claustrophobic answer to Oz, Starred Up throws audiences into brutal confrontations and whispered inmate politics. “The psychodrama is so thick, you can cut it with a straight razor,” Edelstein wrote in his review. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Violette: Based on the life and work of Violette Leduc, Martin Provost’s drama is a must for the literary-minded. Constructed to mirror Leduc’s writing, Provost fully invests in his leading lady, Emmanuelle Devos, and her externalization of loneliness, self-deprecation, and taboo sexuality. (Available to stream on Netflix, rent on iTunes)

The Immigrant: James Grey’s painterly vision of early 20th-century America harkens back to films like The Godfather Part II and Once Upon a Time in America while cultivating rich, thematic performances from stars Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Renner. In his review, Edelstein complimented Grey, saying that “few directors can sustain a mood so thick with melancholy and moral ambivalence.” After all-too-public battles with Harvey Weinstein over its release, The Immigrant finds new life on streaming platforms. (Available to stream on Netflix, Hulu)

Listen Up Philip: Unlikable characters have feelings, too. As a caustic, holier-than-thou novelist, Jason Schwartzman butts heads with loved ones and literary heroes in his quest to be the man he dreams of being. Listen Up Philip drifts casually from hysterical to depressing as hell as Philip’s acidity dissolves the world around him. Not for the easily provoked. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

We Are the Best!: Lukas Moodysson’s joyful ode to punk rock and childhood, We Are the Best! follows three Swedish girls as they start a band, contend with their objecting parents, flirt with boys, and survive their own interpersonal issues. In his interview with Moodysson, our own Bilge Ebiri called it “an explosive, colorful, and occasionally even angry return to form for the director.” If jocks ever pissed you off as a kid, you’ll find comfort in the trio’s repeated lyric: “HATE THE SPORT! HATE THE SPORT!” (Available to stream on Netflix, rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)


Manakamana: For its latest experiment, the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, the documentary world’s mad scientists, fixed a video camera inside a Nepalese mountain cable car and let it rip. The results are absorbing and profound, feeding the brain’s audio-visual cues that stir curiosity and implicitly unpacking a very specific slice of culture. (Available to stream on Netflix)

The Missing Picture: Filmmaker Rithy Panh recalls his own survival experience during a 1975 brush with Cambodia’s killing fields. He unearths memories of the incident that left much of his family dead through archival footage, photographs, and haunting sequences illustrated with clay figurines that stand in for human characters. (Available to stream on Netflix, rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Virunga: This look at the in-peril Congolese national park is part conservationist muckraking, part investigative expose, and part in-the-trenches war documentary. What’s lost when the last African mountain gorillas go extinct? Peace, perhaps, sacrificed for a wealth of oil bubbling underneath Virunga’s soil. Juxtaposing stunning nature photography with vérité violence, documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel trumps Avatar, with an environmentally-conscious action piece that’s urgent and grave. (Available to stream on Netflix)

Rich Hill: Through the eyes of three teenagers growing up in an impoverished Missouri town, Rich Hill confronts shallow perceptions of the country and its socioeconomic troubles. Raw without crossing into miserableness, David Edelstein wrote earlier this year that the exposé “gives you a world of hurt, prescribes nothing, and calls the ultimate questions you can ask as an American.” (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

The Kill Team: If you’re looking for a way to make your blood boil, try this exhaustive look into the Maywand District murders, a series of unprovoked Afghan killings by a group of U.S. soldiers during the war in Afghanistan. Dan Krauss had astonishing access, everything from behind-closed-doors legal disputes, psychiatric evaluations, and interviews with those directly involved. The explanations raise dizzying questions and unearth awful truths about our military. (Available to rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube)

Where to Stream the Best Movies of 2014